Newspapers in Cyprus and Israel are reporting that security forces in Cyprus thwarted a planned terror attack against Israeli tourists.
Cypriot security forces seized a powerful explosive in the port of Limassol, local paper Alithia reported. The explosive was described as capable of causing "massive damage."
The newspapers state that the perpetrators intended to target Israeli tourists visiting on cruise ships to Cyprus which is a popular tourist destination for Israelis.
Earlier this summer, Cyprus arrested a Lebanese man with links to Hezbollah who was planning attacks on Israelis in the country. Israel has said the attacks were part of a concerted effort by Iran, which employs the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah as its proxy to target Israelis around the world.
No one in the U.S. seems to have reported on this story.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article about the targeting of cruise passengers by terrorists:
The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauroattack."
The issue has been written about by a number of experts, including Commander Mark Gaouette who is the former director of security for Princess cruise line. He wrote a book specifically addressing the issue of cruise ships as a target for terrorists.
Twenty-seven years ago today, the world saw terrifying television images of Palestinian terrorists holding passengers aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship hostage. The terrorists demanded the release of 50 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
There were over 20 nationalities of passengers booked on the cruise, but the terrorists stated that Americans would be the first to be executed if their demands were not met.
Leon Klinghoffer, age 69, was from New York City and was vacationing with his wife, Marilyn, and their friends, when the Achille Lauro sailed for Port Said, Egypt. Although Mr. Klinghoffer was disabled and in a wheelchair, the terrorists picked him to be the first to die. They shot him in the chest and head, and then forced two crew members to dump him and his wheelchair over the side of the cruise ship.
That terrible crime occurred in October 1985. Now 27 years later, are cruise passengers, particularly Americans, any safer?
We have seen civil unrest across North Africa. President Mubarek is gone from Egypt and Colonel Gaddafi of Libya is dead. Good riddance to both I say, but both countries now seem more dangerous to Americans than ever. Last month we saw anti-American demonstrations on the 9/11 anniversary in both of these countries, and the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.
On the front page above the crease of the New York Times this morning are several articles about violence in Syria with a photo of a Syrian firing a Kalashnikov rifle. I not sure who is fighting who anymore but they all seem to have the potential to take their violence to U.S. interests.
In April I blogged about a plot where Arab terrorists envisioned hijacking a U.S. based cruise ship, forcing the passengers to wear orange Guantanamo-like jump suits and then videotaping their execution.
The World Cruise Industry Review concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauro attack."
27 years after Leon Klinghoffer's dead body was dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, the danger of terrorism against cruise ship passengers seems greater than ever before. Have cruise ships increased the number of security guards aboard their cruise ships? I doubt it. Every cabin occupied by a security guard means less revenue for the cruise lines.
The current strategy seems to be to simply skip ports in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia until things calm down. But that's a short turn fix; when the street protests are over, there remains the risk of jihadists plotting a cruise ship to target. Will the cruise security teams be ready?
If terrorists can over-power several heavily armed U.S. Marines and kill our Ambassador in Libya, does anyone really think that they are safe sailing on a Holland America Line or Princess cruise ship sailing into Tunis or Port Said?
The disturbing trend of violence against the U.S. in places like Libya and Egypt is causing the cruise lines to scramble to swap out ports of call in North Africa for ports in Italy and Malta.
HAL's Ryndam skipped a port Tunisia yesterday and instead visited Sardinia, Italy. Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas will avoid Alexandria, Egypt next week and will call on Sicily and Valletta, Malta on the next two days. Cunard's Queen Elizabeth skipped a call today in Alexandria and will visit Rhodes tomorrow.
Cruise ships have long been considered likely targets for jihadist terrorists.
There are numerous studies by security companies and U.S. governmental organizations which have studied terrorist organizations and concluded that terrorism against cruise ships is likely. Take a look at this report by the RAND organization.
The World Cruise Industry Review publication concluded that the most likely terrorist scenario is the hijacking of a cruise ship and its passengers: "A cruise ship is boarded and commandeered, while perpetrators hold and potentially injure or kill passengers if demands are not met – as in the Achille Lauro attack."
When I was a kid, my family lived in Tripoli Libya starting in 1965 until the 80's. The Libyan people back then (mostly Sunni Muslims) were peaceful. But today? Libya, Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco are the last places on earth I would sail my family to.
Cruise ships are simply not equipped to handle a terrorist attack. Cruise ship security can't even handle drunk passengers. And I would not trust the port authorities in these Arab countries to provide adequate protection against Islamic fanatics strapped with explosives who would love to blow up a cruise ship with Americans aboard.
Update: Join the discussion on our facebook page - most viewers don't have a high regard for the ability of cruise ship security guards to protect your family from al-Qaeda.
There is a disturbing story today in CNN entitled "Documents Reveal al Qaeda's Plans to Seize Cruise Ships . . ." The CNN article explains that an al Qaeda operative was caught with encoded digital data which, once deciphered, revealed some of the terror group's "most audacious plots and a road map for future operations."
The terrorist group had far reaching plans to conduct operations in Europe and to kill cruise ship passengers as part of its reign of terror.
The CNN article was based on the work of investigative journalist Yassin Musharbash, a reporter with the German newspaper Die Zeit, who was the first to report on the documents. The CNN articles states:
"One plan: to seize passenger ships. According to Musharbash, the writer "says that we could hijack a passenger ship and use it to pressurize the public."
Musharbash takes that to mean that the terrorists "would then start executing passengers on those ships and demand the release of particular prisoners."
The plan would include dressing passengers in orange jump suits, as if they were al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and then videotaping their execution."
Are cruise ships prepared to deal with a well organized attack by a jihadist terrorist organization?
May 1, 2012 Update: Former Director of Security at Princess Cruises, Commander Mark Gaouette, left a comment below, pointing out that Islamic extremists have taken steps to target cruise ships over the past decade. Commander Gaouette has also worked for Homeland Security and is an expert on the subject of cruise ship safety and the threat of international terrorism.
Gaouette authored a best selling book "Cruising for Trouble: Cruise Ships as Soft Targets for Pirates, Terrorists, and Common Criminals" which explains that cruise lines are not taking adequate steps to protect passengers from harm. One reviewer stated: "The chapters about terrorism were so interesting it was hard to put down and should raise some serious red flags with the cruise industry. I think this book should represent a real sea-change of how security and safety on these vessels is regulated by the governments of the world, marketed and perceived to you and me the consumer, and how the cruise line industry conducts their business in general."
The South Florida Business Journal covered the story today, stating: "The Coast Guard, cruise ship and facility operators, and law enforcement officials generally believe waterside attacks are a concern for cruise ships," a 2010 General Accounting Office report said. "Agency officials and terrorism researchers also identified terrorists boarding a cruise ship as a concern."
Here is the CNN video:
Do you believe that the cruise industry has done enough to protect passengers from terrorism, or are cruise vacationers sitting ducks? Please leave a comment below.
CBS Channel 4 reported today that a check of a suspicious package at the Port of Miami resulted in the evacuation of a cruise ship terminal. The evacuation was ordered after a police dog alerted to the package.
Miami police ordered the evacuation of Terminal C, which was in use Friday by NCL's Norwegian Sky cruise ship. CBS reported that the evacuation covered only cruise and port employees working in the terminal because cruise passengers arriving Friday had yet to be allowed inside to board Friday’s cruise.
The Miami-Dade bomb squad and HazMat crews were was called to check the package. A port official eventually said the package turned was harmless.
The AP is reporting that a twenty-three year man, who had apparently been placed on a "no-fly" list, traveled from Oregon to New York by train and then boarded a cruise ship in order to sail to England.
The article identifies Michael Migliore as a "Muslim convert" who had tried unsuccessfully for months to fly to Italy, where he planned to live with his mother.
According to the AP, Migliore says he is on the no-fly list because "he refused to cooperate with FBI agents who wanted to question him after an acquaintance was charged in a plot to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland."
After being barred from flying, Mr. Migliore decided to travel across the U.S. by train and then sail on a cruise ship to Europe. Once he arrived in England the British police arrested him.
Now this strikes me as rather strange. I don't know Mr. Migliore. I have no idea whether he is a potential terrorist threat or a nice guy who was arbitrarily labeled a threat because he converted to Islam. I tend to sympathize with U.S. citizens having their liberties taken away without notice or due process.
But if the U.S. really placed him on a "no-fly" list because of a good faith belief that he is prone to blow up a airplane, why didn't it place him on a "no-cruise" list? This started me thinking - is there such a thing as a "no-cruise" list? If not, why not? If you are inclined to take down an aircraft, it seems like a cruise ship is an equally attractive target.
Does the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), Homeland Security, the FBI and Customs and Border people share information of potential dangers in the air and on the sea? If so, why is someone who is such a danger to be placed on a "no-fly" list permitted to board a cruise ship for a transatlantic cruise?
This weekend our television has alternated between college football games and documentaries about the horror of 9/11.
Where were you on 9/11? many of the special programs seem to ask.
I was in my office talking to Dad who was with my Mom visiting my sister in Park City, Utah. I was with him on the telephone when the first tower began to fall. I remember him yelling "holy shit son the tower is falling!" We then both hung up to watch the spectacle.
There have been some insightful articles about how 9/11 disrupted our lives and changed our perspective of the world around us. The Connecticut Post published an interesting article "A September Cruise Leads Passenger Home to a Changed City" which is the account of a real estate agent in Connecticut who goes with her husband on a cruise from Southampton when the plane struck the twin towers.
The twin towers gone. How is that possible?
The towers were a landmark that seemed to always be in the background of every cruise ship photographed in New York harbor. I found such a photo and thought it might be appropriate to add it to this article. But while uploading it, I realized that it shows the H.M.S Britania, which sank off of the coast of South Africa in October 2000.
9/11 to me brought home the fact that all of us are here on planet earth for a limited period of time. Great buildings can fall before our eyes. Magnificent ships can sink out of sight as if they never existed. Loved ones can leave us.
But the images of our experiences and the voices of our loved ones remain vivid and distinct today.
The Tribune newspaper in the Bahamas is reporting that a pleasure cruise on board the Discovery cruise ship turned into terror and aggravation for hundreds of passengers when a bomb threat stopped the ship at night en route to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. The incident began when Miami Dade Police Department received a 911 call around 9 PM that a man was aboard the ship with a gun and a bomb.
The Discovery cruise ship ship left Grand Bahama with approximately 900 passengers around 5 PM. The five-hour cruise back to Port Everglades usually arrives around 10.30 PM.
US Coast Guard and bomb squad technicians and bomb dogs boarded the cruise ship approximately 18 miles off the coast of Florida. The search was unproductive and the cruise ship returned to port around 4:00 AM. Law enforcement officers from Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, and the Broward County Sheriff Office Bomb Squad personnel and bomb detection dogs boarded the cruise ship.
The newspaper indicates that passengers were restricted to their cabins and in certain areas of the ship while the search was conducted. The newspaper also quotes a passenger stating that "everyone was very scared and some persons were even upset because of the long delay and late arrival into Fort Lauderdale."
One of the proposals recommended by the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization is having "sea marshals" on cruise ships in order to protect passengers and respond to shipboard crimes.
Since 9-11 the Federal government has placed "air marshals" on airplanes. The ICV has attempted to ensure that cruise ships have the same level of security by supporting legislation in California requiring "sea marshals" on all cruise ships entering and departing cruise ports in that state.
Unfortunately, the cruise industry fought against an independent police force on cruise ships. The typical argument is that state law enforcement have no jurisdiction over foreign flag cruise ships on international waters. However, there is no question that states like California have jurisdiction to place sea marshals on cruise ships once the ships reach state waters to act as a police presence and to monitor environmental activities. Alaska has a very effective sea marshal program designed to monitor cruise ship waste water dumping.
The port of Los Angeles already has a sea marshal program. By all accounts it is successful and serves the valuable purpose of protecting passengers. As explained in an article today "Marshals Defend Port of L.A." in the Contra Costa Times, the port of Los Angeles has six sea marshals, as well as an additional eight to 10 port police officers who are trained to join the team. The L.A. sea marshal program is seperate from the sea marshal program operated by the U.S. Coast Guard which board vessels up to 12 miles offshore.
The sea marshal program in L.A. is geared toward addressing vulnerabilities as cruise ships and cargo vessel head into and out of the harbor. Sea marshals board cruise ships 3 miles from port. They are armed. They make sure that no one forces their way into the bridge to hijack the ship and uses it as a floating bomb or a battering ram, just as al-Qaida terrorists forced their way into the cockpits of jetliners on 9-11.
Sea marshals also inspect various areas of the cruise ship, look for explosives, drugs, suspicious activities, and coordinate underwater inspections by port police divers once the cruise ships reach port. They remain on the bridge, where they keep watch as the cruise ships sail out of the Port of Los Angeles. They return to port once the vessels reach 3 miles offshore.
The newspaper interviewed John Holmes, the deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, who said: "Our most precious cargo at the port are our cruise passengers . . . Anytime you get on a ship in Los Angeles and these guys come on board, I think it really gives people a sense of security."
It remains less than clear whether the sea marshals in Los Angeles have responsibility to handle reports of crime which occur at sea as the cruise ships sail back to California. Undoubtedly, the local sea marshals can liason with the Los Angeles Port Police and the FBI.
Los Angeles has proven that a sea marshal program on a state level can work. More ports and states need to follow Los Angeles's lead.
This month is the 25th year anniversary of the death of cruise ship passenger Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew, who was killed by Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the cruise ship he was sailing on with his wife in the Mediterranean Sea in 1985.
Mr. Klinghoffer, age 69, was from New York City and was vacationing with his wife, Marilyn, and their friends when four heavily armed terrorists hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship, after it left Port Said, Egypt. Although Mr. Klinghoffer was disabled and in a wheelchair, the terrorists shot him in the chest and head, and then forced two crew members to dump him and the wheelchair he was confined to over the side of the cruise ship.
The terrorists demanded the captain sail the cruise ship to Syria and Israel release 50 Palestinian prisoners. After a two-day drama, the hijackers surrendered in exchange for a pledge of safe passage out of Egypt to Tunisia. But when an Egyptian jet tried to fly the hijackers away from justice, U.S. Navy F-14 fighters intercepted the jet and forced it to land in Sicily. The terrorists were taken into custody by Italian authorities. The four terrorists were convicted and sentenced to jail, but a "mediator," Abu Abbas, from the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLO) who planned the hijacking, was permitted to leave Italy to the outrage of Americans. (The U.S. Army subsequently captured Abbas during the 2003 invasion of Iraq).
The tragic incident is known for the brutal nature of the Palestinian terrorists against Mr. Klinghoffer, the involvement of the PLO, and the bold action of President Reagan in foiling the terrorists' escape.
But the the incident is also well known in legal circles for demonstrating the extraordinary steps which cruise lines take to limit their liability.
Mrs. Klinghoffer and the estate of Leon Klinghoffer (daughters Lisa and Ilsa were the administrators) filed suit in the Southern District of New York against the owner / operator / charterer of the Achille Lauro, travel agencies, various other defendants and, eventually, the PLO. Other passengers who were aboard the Achille Lauro during the hijacking also filed suit.
The families sued the cruise line defendants for failing to have adequate security to protect the passengers from the terrorist attack.
The cruise ship was operated by the Lauro Line and marketed by the Chandris Line whose risk management department was based in New York City. (The claims supervisor subsequently went to work for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises).
Rather than trying to reach a settlement with the grieving family, the cruise line defendants threw up every obstacle imaginable to prevent the Klinghoffer family from obtaining compensation. The cruise line denied responsibility and claimed that the attack was "unforseeable." They filed motions to dismiss claiming that they did not engage in business in the U.S. They argued that the forum selection clause (which we have discussed in other articles) in the passenger ticket limited their liability to only $10,000 and, in any event, any lawsuit had to be brought in Naples, Italy. The cruise line defendant then filed claims against the PLO, arguing that if anyone should be responsible for Mr. Klinghoffer's death it was the PLO for planning the hijacking of the cruise ship.
The lawsuits lasted over 10 years, at great emotional and financial expense of the Klinghoffer family.
Finally, the cases were resolved shortly before trial when the PLO made a confidential financial settlement which resulted in the creation of a non-profit organization, the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation.
As a result of the ordeal, our U.S. Congress enacted legislation which provides a basis to sue terrorist organizations when they are involved in the deaths of U.S. citizens. Cruise lines, however, remain free to use forum selection clauses and contractual limitations of liability to make it difficult for Americans to obtain compensation.
The lasting maritime law implications of Mr. Klinghoffer's death is that no cruise line can realistically claim that the hijacking of a cruise ship by a terrorist organization is "unforeseeable" - given the vivid memories of that terrible day twenty five years ago on the Achille Lauro.
Yesterday, a criminal barrister in London @CrimeCounsel asked me on Twitter my opinion of the Israeli action against the pro Palestinian flotilla.
I responded immediately that it was in violation of international law and morally indefensible.
For those cruise fans who are not current on international news, two days ago Israeli commandos boarded a cruise ship in international waters. The ship is the M/V Mavi Marmara passenger ship, formerly owned and operated by a Turkish ferry company and now owned by a Turkish Islamist charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. The MaviMarmara, with around 700 Palestinian supporters, was sailing with food, toys and relief supplies for Palestinians in Gaza. Israel boarded the ship to enforce an embargo of Gaza.
Passengers on the cruise ship, called "activists" in many press accounts, attacked the commandos after they rappelled from a helicopter. Watch the video below. When the violence ended, Israeli forces had killed 9 passengers and injured 60 others. The passengers injured 10 Israeli soldiers, 2 critically.
My opinion remains that this was a clear violation of international maritime law. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea entitles vessels "free passage" on the high seas. It was also a morally indefensible attack on citizens in international waters. I received a lot of flak for my opinions. There are few people in the U.S. based cruise industry or courthouses in Miami who have much sympathy for the Palestinian cause, particularly after 9-11. The U.S. is preoccupied with fighting the war on terror and, in the process, every Arab relief agency is labeled as a tool for Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah.
But putting politics aside, this is a straight forward issue. International law prohibits the boarding of vessels in international waters. Attacking a relief ship in this manner is as illegal as engaging in piracy off of the coast of Somalia.
Some argue that Israel has the right to enforce the embargo and make certain that humanitarian shipments into Gaza do not include weapons. This may sound good, but it presupposes that the embargo is legal. The siege of Gaza is wrong and severely punishes Palestinians by depriving them of food, medical supplies and basic services. The U.N. told Israel to end the embargo in the first place.
International law also requires that only "proportional" force may be used in the face of violent resistance. Yes, the commandos were met with violence when they illegally boarded the vessel on the high seas. You can see this clearly in the video. But shooting protesters in the head with automatic weapons is not "proportional" or morally defensible, particularly when the commandos had no right to board the ship in the first place.
June 2nd Update:
There remains considerable debate regarding the legality of Israel's conduct, much of it turning on the issue whether the embargo itself is legal. 99% of the countries in the U.N. believe that its illegal (count me in on that issue) The U.S. and Israel disagree. Here are some articles to consider:
The local news media is reporting that Royal Caribbean recently received a bomb threat aboard the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship.
According to a news release by the U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Caribbean's reservation center in Wichita, Kansas received a call reporting a bomb aboard the cruise ship around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 15th. Crew members searched the ship but did not find anything. The Liberty of the Seas proceeded on with the cruise and arrived back in Miami around 6:00 a.m. the next morning. FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection agents then boarded the cruise ship to look for explosives, but they did not find anything.
Fortunately, these bomb threats turned out to be hoaxes. But what if they were real?
In this most recent bomb threat, the FBI and other federal agencies did not board the cruise ship until eleven hours later.
Are cruise lines equipped to handle a real terrorist threat on the high seas? Most cruise lines have as few as 2 or 3 security guards on duty at night and some lines do not monitor their surveillance cameras (except in the casinos). Is this adequate security for 3,000 to 4,000 passengers and crew?
Our experience suggests that the few security personnel on cruise ships have a difficult enough time deterring or responding to bar fights between drunken passengers. A real terrorist threat on the high seas will pose a real problem to the cruise industry.
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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